The Oregon Health Authority has compiled the latest COVID-19 counts for Oregon’s updated school-opening metrics. Only six counties qualified with Monday’s numbers under the new metrics for in-person instruction for all grades.
The new rules, released Friday, look at county case rates over a two-week window. It sets up four school possibilities based on COVID-19 case numbers: full K-12 in-person instruction, K-6 in-person instruction with the possibility of adding upper grades, transition into or out of in-person instruction, and distance-learning only.
The question of when to reopen classrooms has pitted efforts at state oversight against desires for local decision-making. Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill have publicly stated their priority is to get children back in school for their overall welfare, but they have also listened to concerns about the safety of staff and families. They have pleaded with the public to wear masks and socially distance during the holidays to stop the disease’s spread so students can return to school safely.
ODE has refined its metrics to give more weight to local conditions and public health officials’ input, but Oregon’s recent record-breaking surge in cases has pushed into previously safe-seeming communities.
The metrics come with some caveats still, spelled out in the Oregon Department of Education’s “Ready Schools, Safe Learners.” There are exemptions for remote schools, small schools, limited in-person instruction and districts affected by wildfires. ODE is also allowing schools already offering in-person instruction to continue under “safe harbor” provisions.
For schools to open for in-person instruction in all grades, large counties must be in the green zone with fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 population and a test positivity rate below 5%. Counties with populations less than 30,000 are measured on test positivity rate and total cases, which must be fewer than 30.
Schools can open K-6 classrooms to students in counties with a test positivity rate between 5% and 8% and between 50 and 100 cases per 100,000 for large counties and 30 to 45 total cases for small counties.
Schools in counties that meet the metrics have 14 days to begin in-person instruction, even if counts go up in their counties. Curry, Jefferson, Josephine, Lincoln, Tillamook and Wheeler counties met the criteria for the period Oct. 18-31. An additional 12 counties met the metrics for K-6 in-person instruction. Ten counties, however, fell into the distance-learning only category, with more than 200 cases per 100,000 or a test positivity rate above 10%.